Making a Bamboo Backed Ipe Bow

By Sam Harper

And now we shall prepare the ipe. I gotta be honest with you about something, though. I already prepared the ipe a long time ago. I prepared a bunch of them at the same time so alls I'd have to do is glue them up whenever I felt like it. But I'm going to show you how I do it.

Preparing the Ipe

Before I prepare the ipe, I first prepare myself, and I prepare myself by getting some ipe. I used to get mine at the Hardwood Barn in east Texas, but they seem to have ceased to exist. Since ipe has become a popular decking material, it's become easy to find. Just search for ipe decking in your area. Sometimes you can find it cheap on craigslist when people dismantle their decks. It usually comes in these big ole boards ten feet long, five and a half inches wide, and one inch thick. I can get a whole bunch of ipe bows out of one board. The first thing I do is cut it down to six feet, and I do that at the Hardwood Barn so I can fit it in my truck. Once I get it home (or to my friend's house), I cut it up like so:

First I rip it in half. Then I rip those two halves in half. Then I turn each of those halves on its side and rip them in half. That gives me a bunch of boards that are about 1.25 inches wide, and a little less than half an inch thick when you account for the kerf made by the band saw.

I do the same thing to the four foot piece from when I cut it at the Hardwood Barn. I use those pieces, too, but first I have to splice them together. Altogether, then, I can get twelve ipe bows out of that one board. It's pretty cheap, too.

Now let's take one of those boards, and I'll show you how I prepare it for glue-up. Looking at the side of it, I taper the belly like so:

Don't be intimidated by that 7/16". That's just 1/16" shy of 8/16" which is 1/2". After you cut out the belly with the band saw, use the flat part of the belt sander to get out the tool marks. It's important that the tapered part is flat and even all the way down. You see, we're going to glue in some curves, and we want them to bend evenly. If you have hills and valleys from not cutting straight with the band saw, that will cause it to bend unevenly, and it'll make tillering more difficult later on.

You should also sand the back of the ipe so it will be nice and rough, creating a good gluing surface.

That 14" flat section is for the riser and should also be sanded to create a good gluing surface. I'm actually going to glue on a 12 inch riser, but I leave it 14" on the ipe so I'll have room to work on the fades. Also notice that I've cut the board down to 69". That's not important. Just so long as it's at least 68", everything will be fine.

Preparing the riser and tip overlays

A guy asked me to make a bamboo backed ipe bow recently with zebra wood and padauk on the riser. It turned out to be such a pretty combination I've decided to do the same thing with this build along. Here's a picture of the wood I'm using for the riser and the matching tip overlays.

You can use whatever wood or combinations of wood you want, and you can make each layer as thick or thin as you want. Nevermind the individual thicknesses of mine. The total thickness is one inch. The length is one foot. The tip overlays are two inches long, wide enough to cover the tips, and 1/4" thick with the two woods together. Don't get too worked up about these dimensions. I wouldn't have known what they were myself if I didn't go to the trouble of measuring them just so I could tell you. Usually, I just eyeball it. The only thing I actually measure is the length of the riser and the length of the tip overlays. You have a lot of flexibility with thicknesses.

When you cut these pieces out, be sure to sand them with the flat part of the belt sander. Making them nice and flat will give you a good glue joint. Using a 40 grit sanding belt also gives a good rough surface for gluing.

A couple of observations

You may have noticed a couple of things. First, the ipe is 1.25" wide, yet the handle wood is 1.5" wide. What's up with that? Well, ya see, that gives me a little margin of error in case the handle wood slips around a bit while I'm gluing everything up. Without a lovely assistant, I have to apply pressure while keeping everything lined up at the same time.

You may have also noticed that while the ipe is 1.25" wide, the bamboo is almost 1.5" wide. What's up with that? Well, ya see, I just do that for convenience. I use the same template for fiberglass bows and bamboo bows, so they all come out to the same thickness. Whenever I make something as narrow as an ipe bow, it's a simple matter to cut away the excess bamboo after glue-up. I'll be cutting away the excess ipe toward the tips anyway, so I just cut away the excess ipe, bamboo, and handle wood at the same time.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. I just didn't want to leave you there scratching your head and saying, "Boy, I say boy, that just don't add up!"

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